tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
[CW: discussion of rape, cissexism, transmisogynistic violence]

Disowning desire: how cis people use deception, contamination, and stigma to deny their attraction to trans people

The biggest threat to cisnormativity is the idea that a trans person, particularly a trans person who was coercively assigned male at birth, could be attractive.

The social stigmatization of trans people creates a positive feedback loop of attraction and desire in cis people's minds. A minor manifestation of that feedback loop is the OkCupid question that has ruined more of my potential relationships than I care to count: "When is it most appropriate for a transgender person to reveal their transgender status to a match?" [Screenshot of an OkCupid question; the text of the question and answers are in the body text.] The answer choices are, "It should be clearly stated in their profile," "During messaging prior to meeting in person," "Prior to having intimate contact or sex," and "Never." Absent is the answer I want to give: "Only if and when the particular trans person in question wants to and feels it is safe to do so."

Typically, cis people frame their answers to this question (if asked to justify their answers, which they seldom are) as being about "honesty." A cis person might say, "I have the right to know important parts of someone's history before I get into a relationship with them." Absent is an explanation of why it's only the parts of someone's history relating to the sex they were coercively assigned at birth that are relevant, and why no other aspect of someone's history requires this level of transparency.

Platitudes about "the right to know" or "honesty in relationship" are tidy disguises for a messy collection of fears, insecurities, and desires. I think they serve to conceal the work that the OkCupid question does: the work of shifting emotional labor off people in socially privileged classes, and onto people in socially disprivileged classes.

In a (current or nascent) relationship, who does the work? Who takes risks? Should a cis person risk embarrassing another cis person by asking, "Are you cis?" on a date or in a message thread on a dating site? Or should a trans person (in practice, usually a trans woman) take the initiative in disclosing that they are trans, thereby taking on the risk of being harmed or killed? How much bodily harm does a trans person need to be willing to risk in order to spare a cis person from embarrassment?

Read more... )

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tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
The question of whether "male" means something different from "man", and whether "female" means something different from "woman", has come up in two different situations for me in the past few weeks. I like being able to hand people a link rather than restating the same thing over and over, so here's a quick rundown of why I think it's best to treat "male" as the adjectival form of "man" and "female" as the adjectival form of "woman".

I prioritize bodily autonomy and self-definition. Bodily autonomy means people get to relate to their bodies in the way that they choose; if we're to take bodily autonomy seriously, respecting self-definition is imperative. If you use language for someone else's body or parts thereof that that person wouldn't use for themselves, you are saying that you know better than they do how they should relate to their body.

For example: I have a uterus, ovaries, and vagina, and they are male body parts, because I'm male. Having been coercively assigned female at birth doesn't change the fact that I've always been male. Having an XX karyotype doesn't make me female (I'm one of the minority of people that actually knows their karyotype, because I've had my DNA sequenced). Those are male chromosomes for me, because they're part of me and I'm male. If I ever get pregnant and give birth, I'll be doing that as a male gestator.

I don't know too many people who would want to be referred to as a male woman or a female man, so i'm personally going to stick to using language that doesn't define people by parts of their bodies that are private. And no, you can't claim parts of my body are "female" without claiming I am - if they're female, whose are they? Not mine.

If someone does identify as a male woman or as a female man, cool. The important thing is that we use those words to describe them because those are the words they use to describe themself rather than because of what sociopolitical categories we place them in based on their body parts.

For extra credit, explain why the widespread acceptance of the sex-vs.-gender binary is the worst thing that ever happened to transsexual people.

Further reading: [personal profile] kaberett, Terms you don't get to describe me in, #2: female-bodied.
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tim: A person with multicolored hair holding a sign that says "Binaries Are For Computers" with rainbow-colored letters (binaries)
This essay is an elaboration of a series of tweets I wrote. The original tweets were compiled by [twitter.com profile] listelian with added commentary that I recommend.

"Someone showed me a picture and I just laughed
Dignity never been photographed"

-- Bob Dylan

Caitlyn Jenner appeared on the cover of today's "Vanity Fair". She was not the first trans woman to pose with less than street clothes on in a magazine -- Laverne Cox did that, earlier this year, and Cox deserves praise for that.

So does Jenner. I looked at that magazine cover and, well, as weird as it is to say, I recognized something. There are a lot of differences between Caitlyn Jenner and me. I'm not rich, famous, or Republican. I was coercively assigned female at birth. But I looked at that cover and I saw somebody who's spent decades of her life struggling with the distance between how she looks in the mirror and how she sees herself in her mind's eye, and who has finally been able to look like she needs to, or enough like it to appear confidently on a magazine cover.

Not everybody can afford to look like they need to look, but everybody should be, and when I look at the picture I think that everybody should have access to the same resources that Jenner had access to. I hope it's possible for me to acknowledge massive social inequality and the need to redress it, and, at the same time, find meaning in this photograph.

Finding meaning in things, especially finding reflections of myself in anything or anybody else in the world, can be hard for me. Just seeing my own reflection in the mirror can be hard for me.

For whatever reason, I can look at it right now, and think that I look okay. I didn't think that last year and I might not think it again next year, but it's okay for now.

Part of the reason for that is that I dyed my hair pink again. It's not that my internal image of my true self has pink hair... though maybe it does. To be honest, that image has never fully come into focus for me. It's more that having pink hair makes me like looking at myself, and then I can look at the rest of me, too, not just my hair.

Maybe it's not so important that I dyed my hair pink as it is that I made a choice to change how I look, and carried out that choice. It doesn't matter that I paid somebody else to dye my hair for me, which is what I did this time, it matters that I exercised agency.

To get to a point where what color my hair is could matter, though, I had to do some other things first.

Sculptures and Monsters

When I talk about being able to, or not being able to, look at myself, it's a way for me of talking about something harder to talk about, which is a feeling of not being fully present in or comfortable in my own body. These are different things but it's hard to separate them from each other.

I'm fat, which means that socially, I get discouraged from thinking I look attractive or even that I should be looked at at all. (Since I'm a guy, I experience this less harshly than fat women do, but I still experience it.)

I'm trans, which means that socially, I get discouraged from thinking I look attractive. Part of it is that I'm too short and fat to look like the gold standard for attractive male guys when I have my clothes on. Part of it is that when I have my clothes off, you can tell I'm hung like a hamster. Part of it is that at least these days, my gender presentation runs more femme than masc, and there is not much room for femme guys in what gets falsely reduced to a zero-sum game of who gets to be attractive. But also, internally, I have trouble occupying my own body. Sometimes, anyway; less than I used to have, partly because of the changes I've been able to make to my body and partly because of harder-to-describe changes.

I'm a survivor of complex trauma in childhood, and I wish I could explain to you more fully what that means but part of being a survivor of complex trauma is having difficulty explaining what it means. Imagine if somebody was running around pulling bricks out of your house while you were building it, and then imagine how much structural integrity your house might have left at the end. That's what trauma does to your ability to describe emotional experiences. The best I can do right now is that when I was growing up, I was not permitted to have the boundaries about what does and doesn't happen in and around my body that even very young children usually get permitted to have. On an emotional level, I never really formed the belief that my body is my own -- something that it seems a lot of people take for granted. So that also makes it hard for me to actually be in my own body, much beyond the baseline difficulty I'd already have with it if I was trans and not a survivor.

It's easy for me to focus on how I look and harder to think about my subjective experience, for reasons that are probably familiar to other survivors. But I think that also reflects widespread confusion about trans experience. Most narratives about trans people tell us that we transition in order to look different to other people. Most of those narratives are written by cis people. The real reasons why we transition, which are different for every person who transition, have more to do (in my opinion) with looking right to ourselves, and also with feeling right to ourselves. Because it's hard to describe subjective experiences, I'm writing about looking at yourself in a mirror as a stand-in for that.

This is the minimal backstory I feel I need to lay down to say this: When you don't feel comfortable with yourself, it is hard to figure out what would make you feel comfortable and harder still to show that to other people. What if they laugh? What if they accuse you of not being really yourself when you actually feel like yourself for the first time ever? Those are things that really happen, especially to trans people, but not just to trans people. Caitlyn Jenner, at 65 years of age, figured it out anyway and showed herself anyway. She didn't, at least in the end, let anybody tell her that it was too late and she should just live out what years she had pretending to be somebody else.

I transitioned when I was 26, which was eight years after I learned that transitioning was possible. It was a long eight years. I can't imagine how long 45 to 65 years is when you know you need to transition but you can't, or don't feel it's possible, or feel that the loss of your dignity and pride will outweigh the benefits of seeing yourself as you are, or have the expectations of family, friends, or even the general public weighing on you, or or or. While recognizing that few people have the privilege to do what she did in the precise way she did it, I still feel glad for Jenner that she was able to do it, because everybody should be able to. Also, because having models helps us figure out our lives even if necessarily, models are often public figures and public figures are almost by definition privileged in some or many ways. (This is not to discount the real danger in visibility and fame for all women, particularly women experiencing one or more types of intersectional oppression, either.)

So the thoughts and feelings I had when I looked at that magazine cover were about my own experiences and about the partial but still real way in which they relate to Caitlyn Jenner's experiences.

The thoughts that some cis people had, though, were more along the lines of: "Wow, she looks good. Her surgeons did a good job."

Let me interject with a couple things here: First, it's okay to say that somebody looks good. You would say that to a friend, so I don't see why you shouldn't say it about someone who chose to appear on a magazine cover. At least it seems fine to me.

Second, I didn't read the article inside the magazine (yet), so I don't know what Jenner has said publicly about what surgeries she has or hasn't had. From the picture alone, I am not going to assume anything about what surgeries she has or hasn't had. It's certainly not uncommon for people who appear on magazine covers, whether or not they're trans, to have surgery. But I do want to call out the assumption that she must have had surgery in order to look as she does. Trans people do a variety of things in order to make our bodies externally look and internally feel different. Surgery is only one of them. The details of any of these things are none of your goddamned business unless you are a trans person, an intimate friend of a trans person, someone who thinks you may be trans (and if you think you may be, I would encourage you not to run from those thoughts), or a medical professional who helps trans people with our body issues.

With those disclaimers in mind, I want to talk about how it felt to me to read the words "Her surgeons did a good job." (I am paraphrasing; those may not have been the exact words.)

There is this thing that can happen when you exercise agency over your own body to reshape it in some way, and that thing is getting demoted from the status of "person" to the status of "sculpture".

Suddenly, you are no longer a human being struggling to make your own body a place you can feel at home in, but rather -- and this is at best (I'll get to what the worst of it can look like) -- a work of art that a cis person made. You are no longer self-made.

"Isn't it a nice thing to say that somebody looks good?" Well, yes. But it's not a nice thing to go from there to congratulating the surgeons. Where does it stop? If I look good, are you going to tell me that my dentist or my hairdresser or the people running the machines that sewed my clothes deserve praise? Well, you might, but not if your conversational objective is to connect with me. Complimenting haircuts is, indeed, within social norms, complimenting surgery isn't... except when the object is trans, or disabled, or fat, or -- you guessed it -- in those social categories whose residents' humanity is contingent.

Do you know what the mirror image of "sculpture" is? It's "monster". When you talk about a trans person as an object of aesthetic appreciation in an immediate context of talking about what surgical interventions that trans person has had, you are steps away from treating that person like Frankenstein's monster. The subtext that's obvious to many of us is how amazing it is that any surgeon could have the technique necessary to make somebody who looks male -- in your eyes -- look female -- in your eyes. (Or vice versa, and it doesn't happen as much in the other direction but I've experienced it firsthand.) The subtext is that we're freaks of science, that we're freaks of nature, that we're objects of curiosity. When trans women talk about how they're made to feel like monsters, or like artificial creations (see Talia Mae Bettcher's "Evil Deceivers and Make-Believers: On Transphobic Violence and the Politics of Illusion"), I listen. I can relate, but there is a limit to how far my ability to relate goes, because as a trans man I do not experience the same degree of othering, of socially enforced disgust, of structural violence that trans people who were coercively assigned male at birth do.

But I know this much: you cannot talk about a trans woman like she was a sculpture, or an object of art, or a constructed thing without implicitly designating her a monster, a cold creation of technology, not human. Stop it.

Surgery and Dignity

In order to look like myself, or to start to look like myself, I've had five surgeries. The details of four are only relevant to myself, people who see me naked, and a number of people who work for insurance companies.

In 2009 I had radical breast reduction surgery. The result is that my body from neck to waist looks mostly right to me, aside from the scars that still look fresh because I develop hypertrophic scar tissue and aside from how my nipples are a little bit bigger than guys' nipples outside of the Folsom Street Fair are supposed to be. These are details that, on a good day, I can integrate.

What's harder to integrate is the memory of reading the surgeon's post-op report and noticing that in his narrative of performing the surgery, he used the pronouns "she" and "her" to refer to me, despite having correctly gendered me to my face. Dr. Paul Steinwald, if you're reading this, I hope you're not doing that to people anymore. I'm sure that he thought I was never going to read the report, but due to his own unwillingness to bill my insurance, I had to request a copy from the hospital. (And by the way, Aetna Student Health reimbursed me for 80% of my out-of-pocket.)

One of the things you might have to do if you are trans is to trust someone enough to literally cut into your body, knowing that your trust in them may not be justified. In most cases, if you need surgery, you have to trust somebody that much without knowing whether you can trust them to acknowledge your gender, a form of respect that all cis people can take for granted.

When people reduce you to the work that your surgeon did, therefore, they may be reducing you to the work of somebody who cannot even recognize who you are even as they are doing work that helps you recognize yourself as who you are. That's not hurtful because it's going to hurt Caitlyn Jenner, who we know is strong enough because she was strong enough to be on that cover. It's hurtful because it reminds some of us of traumatic experiences. It's also hurtful because it reminds other trans people -- ones who are in a state of knowing they need to transition, but not being sure whether it's safe to -- of why it's not safe.

In case I haven't made myself clear: getting surgery as a trans person is a terrifying, humiliating process. Maybe that's beginning to change somewhat. In 2009 and 2012, it was still terrifying and humiliating, and I say that as a trans person who was coercively assigned female at birth. That is, I say that as someone who is playing "be a trans person" on the easiest setting. When you look at a trans person who has had surgery and you see an object that a surgeon made, rather than another human being, you are making that process more terrifying and humiliating, most of all for people who sense that they may need to go through that same process but are justifiably afraid to. Many of the reasons for this fear -- for the fear that I experienced myself when I was deciding whether to get surgery, in 2007-2009 and again in 2011 -- are internal. But "ooh, nice results" comments and the objectification they stand for don't make it any easier.

The point, the only point, of transitioning for me was so I could be a real person. So I could feel like a real person. The terror of it was the risk I sensed, which is a real risk, that it would make me a less real person in other people's eyes. The reward is the knowledge that I can see myself as real even while other people do not. I'm trying to use my best prose here, but that inevitably simplifies a long, hard, scary, uncomfortable period of emotional labor. If you are not trans, you have the option to make that work harder for other people, or to not make it harder. Try to use your power responsibly.

Trans Empathy and the Cis Gaze

To look at Caitlyn Jenner on the Vanity Fair cover and say "ooh, nice results" is to make her an object rather than a subject. To be a surgeon who operates on a trans man and writes "She tolerated the anesthesia well" in a post-op report is to make him an object rather than a subject.

"But Tim," you might ask, "Isn't the reason why people appear scantily clad on magazine covers is that they want to be objectified?"

Well... no? I mean, no one has ever offered to let me pose for Vanity Fair, so I haven't had to think about whether I would want to and if so, why. But as far as I can tell, what celebrities do is satisfy their own need for attention while also making other people feel good. Attention is something that everybody needs and there's nothing wrong with being very good at getting it. There's nothing in there about being objectified. Being paid attention to doesn't mean being objectified. Being appreciated as a person whose body is attractive isn't the same thing as being objectified. If you can't separate those things, or can't separate them specifically for women whose bodies you find attractive, maybe take a gender studies class.

When you have a pleasant feeling of aesthetic appreciation about somebody else's body, that's a thing to cherish. It is, however, your feeling. Whether you're having a good feeling about somebody else or a bad one, whether it's about how they look or what they do or what they say, your feeling doesn't create an exception to the imperative to respect others and see them as humans like yourself.

My feeling, when I look at the cover, is to appreciate another trans person's struggle -- despite the gulf between what her life is like and what my life is like -- and, by virtue of how the appreciation survives the distance, feel a little less alone. I can't say I know what it's like to channel dysphoria into being an Olympic athlete rather than being a computer programmer, or what it's like to keep your own gender to yourself for more than 50 years, but I do know when to say, "Wow, that woman must be so happy to look in the mirror and see a reflection that finally makes sense." I know that because I've known, at times, what it's like to look in the mirror and see a reflection that makes sense.

I guess you are entitled to feel however you want, but feeling something is different from choosing to say it in public, and when you do choose to say in public that what you feel when you look at the cover is artistic appreciation of surgeons' work, rather than empathy, that harshes my buzz a bit.

Autonomy and Terror

What every person who transitions does, whether or not they are a public figure, is lose autonomy. That's in the short term. The hope is that in the long term we will achieve greater autonomy and a stronger sense of self. But in the short term, there's constant misgendering, there's getting called "it", there's struggling with dehumanizing administrative processes in order to have a valid driver's license and hold a job, there's being rejected for jobs out of hand, there's doctors, there's therapists, some of whom help and some of whom can't see beyond their own fears. I promise you that while this process is easier the more social privilege you have, no trans person has enough privilege to escape it.

Cis people, it's your job to create a world where we as trans people don't have to be afraid of you. We have many reasons to be afraid of you. A relatively minor but important one is this: you have the power to drown out an inner voice inside us that says, "Hey, maybe I could look like me, too!" with your own voice saying "We're always just going to see you as raw material." You have the power to make somebody just that much more afraid to take the steps needed to look like their own self. You can do better: when a famous person or maybe just a person important in your life comes out as trans, ask yourself: "Does the world really need to hear my hot take?" Please try not to drown out trans people's recognition of self with your ogling of the other.

Fellow trans people, it's a valid choice to transition in order to reclaim some dignity, and it is a valid choice to not transition -- to not transition at all or to transition in a way that doesn't follow the coming-out-to-everybody-you-know narrative -- in order to preserve your dignity. It's a valid choice to decide that one of the two binary genders fits you better than the one you were assigned at birth and to let people know that. It's also a valid choice to decide that because your gender matches neither binary option, there is no broadly legible end point for you to transition to.

I want to say that I love you no matter how you choose to navigate and manage being trans, even if I don't even know you're the gender that you are because of how you navigate your experience of gender. I wish it was easier to manage one's own experience of one's body and self without the crushing weight of very justified fears. But I know the way for me to deal with that wish isn't to expect individuals to be more public and be more out. That's just what the oppressor wants me to think. Reading things that cis people say about Caitlyn Jenner, as with the things they've said about every trans public figure who has come out as trans in this century so far, is nothing if not a reminder to myself to treat every other trans person as if they are at least as complex as I am and at least as deserving of space in which to apprehend their own complexity.

"They won't see you
Not until you want them to"

-- the Mountain Goats
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
I linked to some of these posts in 2013 and in 2012. It bears repeating.

Alyssa Caparas (2011):

I hate what TDoR has come to represent: a queer ‘holiday’ for embracing the narrative of fear; fear of violence, fear of death, self-stigmatization. The co-opting of POC trans women of a very-particular-background’s experiences as those of the ENTIRE trans community, regardless of race, class, or whatever. It’s a day to remind us all why we need to be afraid all the time and I think it’s a bunch of bullshit.

The large majority of people on the lists of the dead are NOT middle class white transwomen or men. They’re lower class PoC & PoC sex workers. I find it incredibly dissrespectful when white, middle, & upper middle class transpeople claim the narratives of transwomen of color & sex workers experiencess as their own. I’m sick of seeing Transbros at TDoR co-opting the narrative of transwomen’s experiences, internalizing them, and feeding those narratives back to everyone, then high-fiving each over how radical & edgey they are. I’m sick of being a Transwoman at TDoR and feeling marginalized by all the gender hipsters who’re there to bump up their scene cred.
(emphasis author's)

erica, ascendant (2012):

because trans identity is so caught up in Caucasianness, a new problem emerges with both the claiming of dead trans people of color altogether: if we weren’t “trans enough” in life, why are we suddenly being counted by the same people who wouldn’t have us once we’re dead? it’s because the idea that it’s dangerous to be trans has to be sold somehow, given that cis people generally ignore violence against trans people regardless of what color we are, and i do have no doubt that it seems like a good idea to use all these names. the trouble is that when this happens without any discussion of race, class, and how violence is often linked to certain types of work, reading our names uncritically is appropriative and using the deaths of people you didn’t care about in life as a vehicle for activism in death. i get that this has to be sold as a concept because cis people are often willfully ignorant that we’re getting killed out here. thing is, there are ways to sell this concept and be conscious of the racial/class/social politics involved herein. i see what the point of TDoR is in terms of public relations, but it isn’t so invaluable that the problematic things about it should go unchecked.
(emphasis author's)

Monica Maldonado, 2012

The truth is, the Trans Day of Remembrance is a day of political grand standing, using the deaths of trans women of colour as a numbers game to buy someone else’s pet project sympathy for votes, dollars, or attention. It’s a day where trans women of colour have greater value dead than we do alive.

We all too often hear that this day is a day where we must not let the deaths of these women be in vain, but this just underscores the transactional nature of these women’s deaths, most of whom fought no war. They lost their lives not in valour, but only as a result of being women in a world filled with gendered violence. They lost their lives because — all too often — our society casts out the disenfranchised and marginalized, no longer calling the huddled masses and tempest-tossed to our communities with heartfelt calls of liberty and virtue.

We should gather to mourn the dead, not conscript them into a battle they never had the privilege to fight while living. It pains me to stand here and remind you that these deaths, of our brothers and sisters and wives and husbands and daughters and sons, that these deaths are senseless tragedies that remain a black mark on society. These deaths are signs of a systemic, institutional, social, economic, and political failure to care for our most vulnerable and marginalized populations. But what may be worse, is the crude politicising of these deaths serves no cause more than that of the same vanity we decry.

Edited to add: Monika Mhz, 2013 (video):

The reading of each mispronounced name that usually happens, mostly from extracontinental locations, acts as a drop of emotional currency for the pimps feeding the masses hungry for misery pornography and serves validation upon their fears. I want to be clear that all fear is real, and I sympathize deeply with the way that events like this -- the general climate of fear, nonlethal violence, and broader aspects of discrimination felt by our community can impact our lives in real ways, regardless of whether or not our risks truly match. But if we are to move forward in creating the change, if we are to move forward in ending the lethal, nonlethal, discursive, institutional and cultural violence that plagues our society, if we're to forge a future where trans women of color's lives are cherished and we don't find reason to feel that we must need to look over our shoulders every waking moment, then we have to be willing to have a real discussion about the violence that faces our community.

fake cis girl, 2013

The dead are us. They’re trans women of color trying to live their damn lives. They’re killed by partners, by clients, by random encounters on the street. I mean, seriously, the silence of white trans people when Islan Nettles was beaten to death walking down the damn street, and even worse the attempts at victim-blaming, were truly horrific…including some invective hurdled about how walking around in the hood comes with such risks. There is such a severe disconnect that part of what would help is that if white trans people in general listened to us this one day a year it could be a catalyst, or so I try to believe. Our realities include much more than how we’re seen in the TDoR list-of-names format: dead people. We are so much more than that, and our realities might be uncomfortable to the “trans community” or maybe, just maybe, the “trans community” will see us as something more than just a list of names of dead people and a bunch of inconvenient bodies and realities to dismiss in life.

Morgan Collado, 2014:

Trans Day of Remembrance is filled to the brim with the names of murdered Black and brown trans women, but is a single evening of remembering enough? And what does it mean that TDoR doesn’t explicitly talk about race and is often dominated by white people? Here in Austin there’s this tradition of calling the names of the dead and then having an audience member sit in a chair that represents where the dead trans woman would sit. The seats are always filled with white people and non-trans women. What do our deaths mean when our bodies, our lives, the physical space we take up, is appropriated by white folks? How can I mourn for my sisters when the space set up for that mourning is so thoroughly colonized? And how can I even see hope of living a full life when I don’t see myself reflected in what is supposed to be my community?

Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to honor those women who came before us, those women murdered by colonial patriarchy. But it seems like more often than not, the queer community at large is content with just remembering. We only hear about trans women after their deaths. And even our deaths are not our own. A week doesn’t go by without a white queer citing the deaths of trans women of color as the evidence of how oppressed they are. These stats are often used in service of their own assimilation; meanwhile, they’re happy to leave us out in the cold. We don’t even have dignity in death, nor the ability to decide what it will mean for us.

fake cis girl (2014):

TDoR generally sees trans women of color as acceptable losses as a central part of the minstrel show that it is. You can’t have a list of dead trans people without it mostly being dead trans women of color with a significant scattering of disabled trans women, too. This common thread between trans suicide and homicides of trans people is no accident, because the violence of rejection may not be the same force of violence that comes from a killer’s blade, but it’s violence nevertheless, and that violence drives some people to suicide. That violence, unlike the violence of a killer, is tolerated and even encouraged in our community. From Ryan Blackhawke’s since-deleted libelous comments complaining about last year’s version of this article to Andrea James’ harassment to the exclusionary nature of the only spaces trans women have (spaces like Ingersoll) comes this violence, and it needs to stop.

TDoR is still broken and still fails trans women of color. Gwen Smith still keeps the list manicured and controlled for whatever political purpose she’s aiming for, refusing to discuss race on the official site of TDoR itself, a day Ms. Smith continues to claim to “own”, and she hasn’t shown any willingness to change the reprehensible fact that deaths in custody don’t count when trans women are frequently targets of police harassment which disproportionately affects trans women of color, which leads to the logical conclusion that we’re more likely to be victims of police and governmental violence.
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
I read this article summarizing a study (paywalled, unfortunately) on trans men who become pregnant with interest, since (if all goes well) I'll be getting pregnant sometime in the next year. Interest and, also, nausea (and I'm not even pregnant yet).

Because any day is a good day for pointing out why cis people are wrong:

  • Automatically labeling men who have uteruses as "transgender" = ugh. For the record, if you want a ticket out of my life, one of the fastest ways is to call me "transgender". I still don't know what that word communicates other than "I am trying to perform my well-intentioned, liberal attitude." (I'm transsexual, but then, if you're about to describe me that way, consider whether it's any more relevant than the fact that I'm right-handed is. You didn't know whether I was right-handed or not? Exactly.)
  • "When Dad is the one who gets pregnant, the whole process of pregnancy and childbirth gets a lot more complicated." I guess so, but ONLY BECAUSE GOD DAMN CIS PEOPLE MAKE IT COMPLICATED WITH THEIR INABILITY TO UNDERSTAND ANYTHING MORE NUANCED THAN GO DOG GO.
  • "someone who has transitioned from a female identity to a male or masculine identity" - I can't even begin to explain all of the fail in this sentence other than by headdesking repeatedly. I'd like to propose a licensing system where cis people get to use the word "identity" only a limited number of times and only when referring to their own identities, as opposed to using it for invalidating trans people, which is what they always use it for.
  • "Pregnancy as a transgender man is unlike any other kind" - well, I haven't been pregnant (yet), so I don't know (and when I am pregnant, it won't be "as a transgender man", because again, wtf does "transgender" mean), but again, IF IT'S DIFFERENT, THAT'S BECAUSE CIS PEOPLE FORCE IT TO BE DIFFERENT.
  • "Some transgender men use testosterone to look and sound more masculine." This is like saying that some cancer patients use chemotherapy to look more bald.
  • "gender dysphoria, the feeling that one's psychological gender identity is different from one's biological sex" FUCCCCK it's almost 2015 and we're still repeating this nonsense about "gender identity" and "biological sex"? Reminder: humans do not have a "biological sex" that is different from their "gender identity". They have a collection of physical characteristics, some of which differ in ways that are sometimes categorized using a social model that some people ignorantly call "biological sex". But the only thing "biological sex" means is that a cis person is trying to misgender you because they feel that science is -- rather than a tool for understanding the world -- a good way for them to assert their power over you using the epistemic superiority that was granted to them the day they were born cis.
  • "The author of the new graphic memoir Pregnant Butch, a masculine-looking woman named by A.K. Summers, said one of the worst parts of her pregnancy was that it exaggerated the most female aspects of her body" -- I'll take their word for it (which maybe I shouldn't) that A.K. Summers' pronouns are "she/her", but why couldn't they find an actual man who'd been pregnant to quote in an article about, y'know, men being pregnant?
  • "In some of the transgender men in the study, gender dysphoria actually declined with pregnancy. These people said they were, for the first time in their lives, pleased with their bodies, which were finally helping them do something they valued that a typical male body could not do." WTF does "typical" mean? Why is a cis man's body any more "typically male" than mine?
  • "gender identity is a spectrum" - no. Fuck you. (That's my "gender identity.")
  • And finally, wtf is up with the headless-trans-man (though who knows what gender either the adult or the baby in the picture is... which is kind of the point, though it's probably lost on anyone working for NPR) photo illustrating the article? Given that the article strips away our autonomy and dignity, can we at least be afforded the luxury of having faces?

I should note that probably the study being discussed in the article is perfectly OK (though who knows? Since it's paywalled, I can't read it), with the exception of an author's use of "gender identity as a spectrum" (again, the term "spectrum" needs to be taken out and shot unless you're referring to a brand of organic all-vegetable shortening). I'm just objecting to NPR's coverage of it.
tim: Mike Slackernerny thinking "Scientific progress never smelled better" (science)
I find myself looking for this collection of links so often (and I just assembled it for a comment elsewhere) that I'm going to put it here in one place:

Insistence on the objective truth of the culturally mediated ideological construct called "biological sex" is anti-trans, anti-intellectual, and anti-science. It is indistinguishable from misgendering -- in fact, it's a form of misgendering clothed in ersatz scientific terminology -- and as such, it's violence against trans and gender-non-conforming people, but especially against trans women and other people who were coercively assigned male at birth but reject that designation.
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
Tonight, I'm remembering a horribly inappropriate TDOR celebration at Portland State University that I attended in 2010 (genderqueer acrobatics? Really?)

I'm remembering how my income has more than doubled since I transitioned.

I'm remembering the time, not very long ago, when I thought that I was at risk of violence for being trans. I genuinely thought that if I walked into a public men's restroom and somebody glanced at me and thought they weren't seeing a man, that there was a real chance I could be assaulted or worse. I didn't realize that the overwhelming majority of trans people who get murdered are women, specifically are women of color, that many are sex workers who don't have other economic alternatives, that many have been homeless, and none of that is a coincidence.

I'm a man. I'm white. I've never had trouble finding a job, and when I've considered doing sex work it would have been for fun or politics and not because nobody would hire me to do work that isn't against the law. I've never been homeless. All of this means I'm very likely to continue not being the target against what sometimes gets called transphobic violence, but is really the intersection of several systems of oppression.

I now know that it would be ludicrous for me to claim to be at that intersection. I realize that as an affluent white tech worker in Silicon Valley, I have far more in common with people who benefit from the continuing war on all women -- a war that targets intersectionally marginalized trans women with special violence -- than with the people who suffer from that war. I realize that I am one of the people who benefits from that war. I realize that it would be obscene for me to stand someplace and light a candle mourning those who died so that I can live the comfortable life that I live, regardless of whether those people are trans or cis. I owe a large part of my current comfortable status to the advantages that I enjoy as a man working in technology. And the high status of the specific kind of work that I do has a lot to do with the gendered nature of that work. Even within technology, work is divided along gendered lines, and the line of work that I'm in (requiring specialized knowledge that women are largely prevented from acquiring) is both particularly male-dominated and particularly remunerative. That's not a coincidence.

The high cultural valuation of masculinity owes itself to the devaluation of femininity, which is not an abstraction. For me, the decision to affirm my male identity to the world and not just privately was a decision that has resulted in greater happiness for me and more money in my bank account. Contrast that with how every person who was coercively assigned male at birth and rejects that assignment has to choose between private suffering, and the very real threat of public violence.

It would be wrong for me to utter the phrase "transgender people" and imply that I have more in common with CeCe MacDonald than I do with Mark Zuckerberg. It would be wrong for me to cry false tears about the deaths of women who I did not stand in solidarity with when they were alive. It would also be wrong for me to abuse the name of Brandon Teena, a working-class rural trans man who affirmed his gender as a teenager and died because of gendered violence (it just happened to be violence that didn't target his actual gender) to clumsily equate my own situation -- playing life as a person who was assigned the wrong sex at birth on the easiest possible level -- with that of every or any trans woman and/or genderqueer CAMAB person.

I've already said too much. You should read what these people have to say instead:

erica, inchoate: nihil de nobis, sine nobis: trans women of color and Remembering Your Dead

Alyssa Caparas: Why I Didn't Attend TDoR 2011

CeCe MacDonald: On Trans Day of Remembrance: A Proposal

[edited to add:] fakecisgirl: TDoR For, By, and About Trans Women Of Color Now
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
Close readers of this journal know that after I had genital reconstruction surgery in February 2012, I experienced complications that required an emergency room visit. Everything was fine in the end with regard to my health and body, but with regard to my finances, not so much.

As far as background, from January-March 2012, I was employed by Mozilla as a seasonal employee (nope, I didn't know software engineers could be seasonal employees either) which meant I wasn't eligible for any benefits, including health insurance. To be a responsible adult, I purchased an individual health insurance plan from HCC, which I found through ehealthinsurance.com. HCC was one of the few individual short-term plans that offered instant approval, which means not asking the detailed health questions that most short-term insurance companies asked. I know from experience that I would be denied insurance by any company that asks detailed health questions, so I had to go with one that offered instant approval. I was hired by Mozilla at the end of that period as a full-time employee with benefits, so I have group health insurance now, but of course it doesn't apply retroactively.

While I was interning at Mozilla but before I decided to (/was forced to) leave grad school, I made plans to have surgery in Feb. 2012. Of course, I didn't think that any individual health insurance plan that I would have would cover the costs, so I intended to pay for the surgery via credit cards, and that's what I did. And if not for what happened after my first surgery, I'd have paid off those credit cards by now.

Infections can happen with any surgery, and I got to be one of the unlucky ones; after returning from Arizona to Oakland, about ten days after having surgery, I got a high fever and other flu-like symptoms. I wrote it off as probably a cold or flu at first, but it didn't get better as quickly as flu would have, and a few days later I made an appointment with my primary care doctor for advice. Just before I left for the doctor's appointment, I felt something wet and noticed that one of my incisions had burst open and was bleeding. I shoved some gauze in my pants and headed to the doctor; she advised me to go to the ER, since I needed a plastic surgeon and that would be the only way to get in to see one on short notice. I ended up staying at UCSF for that night and the next night, and had emergency surgery to stop the bleeding, which was due to a buildup of fluid from the infection. Again, after that, I got better and everything was fine... except for the bills.

When I went to the ER, I provided my health insurance information, knowing my insurance probably wouldn't pay, but I figured it couldn't hurt. And in fact, I was reluctant to go to the ER in the first place, even after the uncontrollable bleeding started. Think about that for a minute. How fucked up is it that I thought about treating unstoppable bleeding at home just because going to the hospital would accrue bills I wouldn't be able to pay?

Well, a few months later the unsurprising thing happened and I got a letter from HCC denying all my claims -- for a total of around $35,000 of costs that were my responsibility (between the hospital bills, anesthesiologist bills, and physician bills). They cited a clause in their policy that states that "Treatment required as a result of complications or consequences of a treatment or condition not covered under this certificate" is excluded under the policy. Moreover, there's another clause, that, similar to many other insurers' trans exclusion clauses, states that "Modifications of the physical body in order to improve the psychological, mental or emotional well-being of the Covered Person, such as sex-change surgery" are excluded. (As an exercise for the reader, you can think of all the things that are wrong or misleading about this sentence.)

In my opinion, HCC's denial of coverage was based on a correct application of the policy, but I believed that the policy itself was discriminatory. It singles out people in a protected class (trans people, as per California's Unruh Civil Rights Act) for poor treatment, as evinced by the use of the non-clinical term "sex-change surgery" to refer to genital reconstruction surgery and other procedures. The medical community agrees that for trans people who require surgery and/or hormones, those transition-related procedures are medically necessary -- not just desirable to improve "psychological, mental, or emotional well-being" (though, like almost any surgery, transition-related surgeries could certainly do that as a side effect -- not being in pain is more fun than being in pain, as a general rule). There is no controversy about that. So the only reason to single out trans people for denial of health care is to take advantage of public animus towards trans people; I'm not saying that executives at HCC necessarily hate trans people, but they know we're politically unpopular and that there will be no broad outcry against denying us care. A health insurance company's job is to stop people from getting health care, so the more unpopular groups they can identify and deny care to, the better they're doing their job.

I wrote a 4-page appeal letter elaborating on this point (and on other issues) and sent it to HCC in September of last year. After about a dozen phone calls and a few more letters sent to HCC, spread out over a few months (every time I called, I was told that the call center employee "didn't have permission to view [my] file"), I filed a complaint with the California Department of Insurance. Miraculously, within a week, I received a UPS next-day-air letter from HCC affirming the denial of my claim. The majority of the letter doesn't deserve the dignity of a response, but the key point is at the end: because HCC is licensed in Missouri, the letter states, they are not subject to California civil rights law -- even though they took advantage of the benefits of doing business in California by selling policies to me and other California residents.

I couldn't believe that this could be true, and I called back the person I'd interacted with at the Department of Insurance. She affirmed that this was true -- saying that in almost all cases, any health insurance company that is regulated in California and allowed to sell policies in California would be subject to California civil rights law, HCC fell into an exception for "health and life insurance companies". Because HCC sells both health and life insurance policies, they are allowed to sell insurance in California but don't have to comply with California law. Rather, they're subject to the laws of Missouri, which has no civil rights protection for trans people.

Something still didn't sit right with me about this answer, so I thought about finding a lawyer to get advice. But, I had already tried to do that:

  • I talked to a friend who works at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and he talked to a colleague of his who works at the Transgender Law Center. It appeared that the policy of both groups is not to sue health insurance companies for anti-trans discrimination, because challenging trans exclusion under civil rights law is something that has never been successful.
  • I talked to somebody at the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, and while he spoke with me at length, in the end he said that they weren't willing to take the case because they don't handle cases where a company has an explicit trans exclusion clause; they would only challenge it if an insurer was denying coverage for transition-related care but didn't have a trans exclusion clause in their policy.
  • I spoke directly with an advocate at the Transgender Law Center and sent him a copy of my appeal letter before sending it to HCC, but never received a follow-up response.
  • I called the offices of Christopher Dolan, a lawyer who has done some LGBT civil rights cases, but after receiving an intake interview from a staff member, was told that they would not take my case.
  • Another friend of mine who's a lawyer recommended a lawyer known as the best client-side health insurance lawyer in California, and I called his office, but he never returned my call.
  • I called the San Francisco Bar Association referral service; they took my information over the phone, then called back a few days later and told me they weren't going to refer me to anybody.
  • I called my work's employee assistance program; they referred me to a lawyer who talked to me for 15 or 20 minutes, told me the case was really interesting and that if he had to file a brief on a related topic he would call me for advice (not what I want to hear from a lawyer, honestly), and to call him back once I received a response to my appeal. A few months later when I got the denial, I did call his office back, and they never returned my call.
  • I called the office of Kari Hong, who wrote the excellent paper "Categorical Exclusions", but she never returned my call (and seems to have moved on to other areas of law anyway).
  • I posted a query on LegalMatch, and got some views but no replies.
  • I called BALIF, the LGBT law association, to ask if they did referrals, and they never called me back.
I think that's everything. The only thing left to do that I can see is to go through BALIF's member directory, which they do have on their web site, and just start calling every lawyer on it. I intended to do this for a while, but I kept putting it off because I just couldn't face the thought of being told by cis people things like "why do you want health insurance to cover your cosmetic surgery?" and of wasting a lot of time on something not likely to produce results. So at this point, I'm admitting defeat. I have about $11,000 left to pay off to UCSF that I'm paying at an installment rate of $1000 a month; between that, student loans, paying off my credit card debt that's mostly from the original surgery and the revisions that I needed (though that's almost all paid off now), and the high cost of rent in the Bay Area, it'll still be at least a year before I get to see much of my paycheck. It'll be more than a year before I get to start saving for retirement. When all this is over, I'll have spent my first three years out of grad school -- after already getting a late start and leaving without a degree -- completely unable to save any money, almost entirely because of medical costs that would have been covered by insurance if I wasn't part of a socially stigmatized group. I could have saved that money for retirement, put it towards a down payment for a house, saved it towards being able to have a family one day, any number of things... but other people got to take it from me simply because I'm trans.

My understanding is that trans civil rights groups (and there are very few civil rights groups to begin with that defend trans people's rights) prefer not to pursue cases like mine because they think it's a better strategy to work with employers to lift clauses in their policies, on a company-by-company basis. I see this as a trickle-down approach to social justice, and like most trickle-down approaches, it benefits those people who are already the most privileged. The solution proposed is for everyone to just get a job at Google so they can have trans-inclusive insurance... but what if you're in a class of people who can't just get a job at Google? Oh, well. I'm personally in that category of the lucky few who have job options that come with trans-inclusive group health insurance, but my company still has trans-exclusive insurance (and, of course, due to the specifics of how I was hired, I wasn't even covered by their insurance when my emergency happened). And I like working at my company, and don't want to take a different job just for the health insurance.

Before all this happened, I thought that all it would take to challenge trans exclusion clauses would be for someone to be willing to be a test case, so long as they lived in a state that had trans civil rights protections. Well, now I see that I was wrong. I would have been happy to be a test case, since I don't particularly care about getting negative publicity (being a trans man, I would be unlikely to face the same kinds of negative consquences as a trans woman who outed herself publicly as being trans), but that didn't matter, since no one was interested in representing me.

And, of course, it's possible that even the world's best lawyer couldn't have won my case because of the health-and-life-insurance company loophole. I don't know enough about insurance law to know. That's why I wanted to hire an insurance lawyer. The individual health care policy industry seems to be a particularly unethical and exploitive corner of a morally bankrupt industry. And this is a good time for me to acknowledge that the basic issue here is the US's for-profit health care system, something found almost no where else in the developed world. If our failure to take care of each other -- even people different from ourselves -- hadn't created an industry whose purpose is to take people's money in order to stop them from getting health care, there would be no incentive for insurance companies to deny care to people in marginalized groups. That said, I think it's possible for different groups of activists to address different problems; we have to fight for a better system at the same time as we work to make the current system less blatantly unfair.

I feel like what I've achieved in my life so far is pretty close to the maximum for what trans people are allowed to accomplish. My lifelong depression has always stopped just short of being suicidal; I have a graduate degree, have never been homeless, and have a stable professional job and a high income. I'm pretty close to the trans ceiling, then -- and a whole lot of that is because I'm a trans person who was coercively assigned female at birth and who presents in a way that people recognize as falling within what men are allowed to do most of the time. I don't want to downplay any of my privilege here. Still, if the best that any trans person can hope to accomplish involves being in major long-term debt, there's a problem, because in that case why should anybody try hard when they're designated as subordinate from the start? Looking at the CNN.com story that featured me along with five trans women, a few months ago, is one way to find further context.

I'm okay with giving up this fight, but I'm not okay with not leaving a public record of what happened, so for posterity, here's my appeal letter in PDF form and here's the response from HCC denying my claim; also, here's the response from the CA Department of Insurance declaring that California has no authority to regulate HCC, also in PDF. For context, you also might want to read all of my previous surgery posts (but, warning: all of them contain explicit body and/or sexuality details about me): first, second, and third.

If you're wondering what you can do:
  • When you get an unsolicited email from a recruiter, ask them if their company has trans-inclusive health insurance, and then post the results here.
  • Find out whether your employer has trans-inclusive health insurance. If not, find out why not and pressure them to change. It's especially important than people who are not trans do this, both because they can do so with less personal risk and because their requests will be taken more seriously.
  • Donate to the TGI Justice Project, which doesn't focus on health insurance but does advocate for the most vulnerable trans people.
(I'll add more ideas if I think of them.)

Edited July 11, 2013 to add letter from CA Department of Insurance
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
A few weeks ago, I agreed to be interviewed by a reporter for CNN Money (online only, there's no TV version of this as far as I know) about my financial situation -- the Transgender Law Center put me in touch with her. Of course, I would rather make the news for something other than being in massive debt, but I'm hoping this will help raise awareness of something like that. Here's the article, which goes with a slide show of me and five trans women, with each of our stories in our own words. I can't speak for any of the other five participants, but I was pleased with the level of accuracy with which Blake Ellis, the author, transcribed my words as you see them on the page.

Despite my net worth being in the negative five figures, I still try to donate to organizations I support, and (while doing my taxes for 2012) I had occasion to make a list of them. These are not the only organizations I've supported, but they are my favorites. Here they are, in case you have more money than you know what to do with and want suggestions.


I wish I'd had access to this site when I was 12 or 13. (I still thought that "oral sex" referred to kissing at that point.) In a country where whether teenagers should get accurate information about sex in school is a controversial subject, sites like this are sorely needed. Scarleteen is a labor of love by Heather Corinna, whose online presence I've been following for a while now, and her commitment and dedication to maintaining the site for minimal reward is inspiring.

The Ada Initiative

Open-source and free software communities, as well as free culture projects like Wikipedia, continue to be hostile environments for women, people in gender, sexual and romantic minorities, and lots of other people who are from groups that have outsider status. It doesn't have to be that way, and it would be better for everyone if everyone who had desire and energy to contribute was able to participate in building the future without fear of humiliation. The Ada Initiative is the only group I know of that is specifically working to make that vision a reality. I have had the pleasure of meeting and interacting online with both of the founders, Mary Gardiner and Valerie Aurora, so I have particular confidence in TAI's effectiveness.

National Network of Abortion Funds

Incredibly, getting an abortion in the US in 2013 is still highly dependent on one's income, and we still are a nation where being forced to give birth to a baby because of inability to pay around $500 (or in many locations, thousands of dollars when travel costs are factored in) is far from unheard of. The National Network of Abortion Funds focuses specifically on funding abortions for people who can't afford them, as well as changing unjust laws like the Hyde Amendment. They are sometimes good (not perfect!) at using language in their publicity that acknowledges that people who get pregnant and need abortions aren't always women. Stacey Burns, the online communications manager for NNAF, friended me on Facebook after I did a Causes.com birthday wish for NNAF a few years back, and through reading her posts, I've gotten a good sense for the kind of activism that NNAF represents, and that it's something I want to support.

All Hands Volunteers

In the summer of 2010, I went to Léogâne, Haiti for six weeks to help with earthquake relief. All Hands Volunteers was the group I volunteered with. I ended up leaving Haiti after four weeks instead of six -- turns out heavy labor in extreme heat wasn't the thing I was best at (and after years and years of sitting at a desk 40+ hours a week -- who'd have guessed?) While I was there, though, I saw firsthand that All Hands is a group that's very effective at getting a lot of work done with a small group of very committed volunteers. Since then, they've initiated disaster relief projects in the Philippines as well as post-Sandy relief in Staten Island and Long Island. Some of the volunteers I met while working with All Hands were among the most inspiring people I've ever met.

Lyon-Martin Health Services

I'm biased -- Lyon-Martin, in San Francisco, is where I get my primary health care. It's a place where I can feel confident that I won't be treated awkwardly or be forced to educate about being a man with a transsexual body, and it's also a place where trans women, queer cis women, and genderqueer people can feel confident of the same. They operate on a shoestring and were close to shutting down not long ago. You should give not just if you want to support respectful health care in the Bay Area, but also if you want to make sure that the informed-consent model for trans health care spreads further.

Partners in Health

Years ago, I read _Mountains Beyond Mountains_ by Tracy Kidder (on the recommendation of a LiveJournal friend!), a biography of Paul Farmer -- who, along with Ophelia Dahl, founded Partners in Health -- and it has affected my thoughts, if not yet my actions, ever since. Paul Farmer's belief in and work towards providing the same health care to poor people that (say) a Silicon Valley software engineer like me would expect for themself or for their friends and family is challenging and is a source of hope. I also appreciate that while PIH is non-sectarian, it's inspired by liberation theology; _Mountains Beyond Mountains_ quotes Farmer as saying that he knew there had to be something to religion, because rich people hated it and poor people derived strength from it. I like that. And PIH gets stuff done (plus, Ophelia Dahl graduated from my alma mater, Wellesley, reminding me that not everyone from my school becomes an investment banker).

Transgender, Gender-Variant and Intersex Justice Project

There are big-name organizations that call themselves "LGBT" when the "T" really stands for transmisogyny and the B is silent, but the TGI Justice Project is the real thing. Just as PIH focuses on providing health care where it's needed the most, TGIJP focuses on the needs of that subset of the "LGBTIQ" cohort who need justice the most: trans women of color who are or have been incarcerated or who are targeted by the criminal justice system.

Having written this list, now I'm looking forward to having my debts paid off so I can support all of these organizations more thoroughly! If you particularly want to support organizations whose work is of a global nature, Partners in Health and All Hands Volunteers are your best bets on this list. Most of my favorites are US-centric, though, since I believe in helping with the needs that I'm most familiar with (since who else is going to but the people who are affected?)

tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Well, maybe this meme is dying down, but I happened to re-read Emily's Trans 101, Upgoer Five Style and while it's good, I also couldn't resist writing my own version. Strangely enough, I felt like the limited vocabulary here helped me be clear, whereas when I was writing about my job, I felt too constrained by it in places (possibly because of having to circumlocute for technical terms, which was less of an issue here.)

Most people think that when a baby is very little, they can tell whether the baby is a boy or a girl. Also, they think that every baby is either a boy or a girl, never both.

They think this because they think that what a baby's between-the-legs looks like tells you whether the baby is a boy or a girl. But that's not true. Both boys and girls can have one kind of between-the-legs. And both boys and girls can have the other kind of between-the-legs. It's how you feel that makes you a boy or a girl, and babies can't talk to let other people know how they feel.

Also, there are more ways to feel than just boy or girl, and you can also feel any or all of those ways no matter what you have between your legs.

Some people think that everyone has a mark inside their cells that says they're a boy or that they're a girl. This, too, is wrong. These marks are real, but it's people who decided that one mark makes you a boy and the other mark makes you a girl. People are wrong sometimes.

Most people who get called a boy when they're a baby are boys, and most people who get called a girl when they're a baby are girls. It's harder for girls who got called boys, and boys who got called girls, and people who aren't boys or girls. There are two different ways in which it's harder.

First, some people have a picture of their body inside their brain that's of a body that looks and feels different than how the rest of their body is. You can't change that picture even by thinking very hard or getting help from another person. If you are this way, you have to change your body instead to make it match the picture in your brain.

Second, whether a person needs to change their body and does, or they need to change it but they can't, or they don't need to change it, many people aren't very nice to boys who don't look like they think a boy should look, or to girls who don't look like they think a girl should look, or when they can't decide if another person is a girl or a boy.

I'm in both the first and the second group. People thought I was a girl when I was a baby, but I was a boy. I didn't know this could even be true until I was much older. As soon as I found out that just because people thought I was a girl didn't mean I was one, I knew I wasn't a girl. After a while, I realized that I was a boy, and not someone who wasn't a girl or a boy. I was able to change my body to make it more like the picture that's built into my brain, so I'm much happier having a body now. And most people who see me realize I'm a boy without me having to tell them, which also makes me happy, because it was hard to explain to people who thought I was a girl that I was actually a boy.

It's harder for people who got called a boy when they were a baby but aren't boys, because lots of people are very afraid of people who they think have said no to being a boy. They think that someone else not wanting to look like a boy means being a boy won't be as fun for them. To deal with their fears about themselves, those people hurt other people. This gets in the way of the people who got called boys and aren't, who are just trying to live their lives.

You can make it better by believing people when they say that they're a girl, or that they're a boy, or that they're something else and not a girl or a boy. You can also make it better by telling people they are wrong when they make fun of others who they think are being boys wrong or being girls wrong.

Check it!
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Over on Twitter, I wrote: 'Cis people have sexes, trans people have "gender identities"! Men are from Mars, women are from Venus!'

And a friend who is cis asked, in response, 'Suggestions for (gently?) correcting cis people who're under the impression that "gender identity" is what trans people prefer?'

One thing that I, and many other trans people say, is that if you're cis, and care about trans people, you should call out cissexism when you hear it: for example, if someone in your presence uses the t----- word (and is not a CAMAB trans person), or makes a joke whose humor is contingent on it being ridiculous or pathetic for CAMAB people to wear or do anything coded as feminine, you should inform them of your displeasure. There is no need to do so diplomatically or politely unless you think that is the most effective way to send a message to the offender, and anyone else present, that this behavior isn't acceptable. Rules don't have to be polite -- stop signs don't say "stop, please". As an ally to trans people, you assert a boundary when you say "it's not okay for you to use slurs around me." And there is no need to be particularly nice in stating that boundary.

To me, though, use of the term "gender identity" -- which is, in my opinion, almost always part of a stealth tactic to invalidate trans people's self-affirmed sexes and elevate cis people's identities to the status of "biological" -- falls into a different category from slurs and hateful jokes. First and foremost, some trans people do prefer the "gender identity" terminology; some trans people do say things like "my biological sex is female, but my gender identity is male". It makes me cringe to hear that, and when I feel like I can, I'll try to let people know that there are other ways of talking about our lives that are more honest and accurate.

But it's not a cis person's place to have that conversation with a trans person, and likewise, it's also not a cis person's place to claim they know what set of terminology is right for all trans people.

Here's what I suggest you do instead if you want to call out terms like "gender identity", and you're either cis, or being seen as cis: shift the focus to cisness, instead of transness. For example, you could ask: "Do you have a gender? Or do you have a gender identity? Do you feel you know what your sex is? If so, how would you feel if someone else told you they know what your sex is, and the sex you know you are is just a 'gender identity'?"

Even using the terms "cis" or "cissexual" bothers some people because they would just rather be called "normal"; if "cis" and trans" are adjectives of equal status, neither one marked as the "default" state, then it's almost as if being cis isn't any better than being trans. By getting cis people to understand that they are cis, that the way they relate to their body and to the labels they were coercively assigned at birth are not universal but are simply their subjective experiences (no better or more real than anyone else's subjective experiences), you can encourage other people cis people to step off the pedestal, and relate to trans people as equals rather than superiors. If you can name yourself as "cis", that's one step towards realizing that trans people are not flawed versions of yourself, but rather, people who are different from yourself, just as you are different from us.

In my opinion, "gender identity" serves a similar function to language that marks "trans" but leaves cisness unmarked. The language of "biological sex", being "born a man" or "born a woman" (which sounds painful for the individual giving birth), "chromosomes", and so on, all sound scientific, but in this case they're serving a decidedly political function: to lend legitimacy to the idea that people whose sex is different from the sex they were coercively assigned at birth do not exist. "Gender identity" makes us second-class and tells us we have to be second-class for science (and few things are considered more shameful among the middle class than rejecting science, or rejecting anything that can be framed as "science").

But not all trans people agree with me. So rather than trying to summarize what all trans people prefer (an exercise that's likely not to end well, any more than you could summarize what all cis people prefer), maybe focus on questions, instead of answers. "What do you mean by that?" can take you a long way. I think that's especially true when unpacking much of the language used to describe sex and gender, whose function is to subordinate some people politically and raise the status of others, rather than to describe reality.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
So, I decided to sell my soul to the Department of Homeland Security and apply for a Nexus card. Both US and Canadian citizens can get one, and it makes it simpler to cross the US/Canada border either by air or land. I was also under the impression that having one is one of the ways to be considered a "trusted traveler" and thus use TSA PreCheck lines at some airports in the US, so it's useful even when traveling within the US. Also, some PreCheck lines are scanner-free and walk-through-metal-director-only, which means no scanning and no groping. Not all of them are, but I figured anything that helps, helps, under the principle that I want to choose who touches certain parts of my body (you wouldn't think that principle would be so radical, but hey).

I applied online back in August, and eventually (they don't send notifications so I had to do this by manually polling the web site online) was invited to appear in person to interview for the card. The only locations where you can do this are near the border, so for me, the closest location was Seattle. The soonest appointment was February 1, 2013; later I tried to see if I can change it as a different date might have been more convenient, but I was offered June as the next available appointment, so I decided to keep it February.

Lesson number 1: if you're applying for a card in Seattle, Sea-Tac is *not* the place to go! I read it quickly, thought "oh, the Seattle airport", booked a hotel near Sea-Tac for the night before, and... the night before, realized my appointment was actually at Boeing Field/King County International Airport (which is also, by the way, a 20-minute walk from the nearest public transit stop). This isn't an issue if (unlike me) you have reading comprehension skills, but don't go to SEA, go to Boeing Field.

I arrived 15 minutes early or so for my appointment, but basically as soon as I sat down in the waiting area, the DHS agent showed up and offered to take my passport and driver's license so she could pull up my file. After a few minutes she came back and brought me inside for the interview. She was very quick and efficient. I had worried about getting asked weird questions relating to the fact that I had two previous legal names, both of which connote a gender that I'm not, but she just asked me to verify that I'd used those names before and I said yes; no comments or weird looks or anything. So that was professional of her, and should hopefully reassure any of you who are trans if you were thinking about applying.

She asked me if I'd ever been arrested, ever been turned away from the border, ever had a DUI, or ever had to go before a judge. I said no to all of them, but more about that later. She explained very briefly how the Nexus and PreCheck programs worked and then took a digital scan of my fingerprints (all ten fingers! Serious business. No toes, though.)

I was told to bring a print-out of my "conditional approval" letter inviting me to apply, so I did, and was never asked for it. It turns out that I also didn't need my car registration, which I brought; being a US citizen, I also didn't need any proof that I live at the address that I claim. (My driver's license and passport were apparently sufficient.) I had been told I would need the car registration if I wanted to cross the border in my car, but the agent said that was outdated info, and I would now be able to cross the border in any car so long as every occupant of the car had a Nexus card.

Then she escorted me outside to wait for the Canadian border agent, who came out to greet me within a few minutes. The Canadian agent was much less friendly. He asked me where I work and for a business card (which I knew to bring, so I had one ready) -- so, if you have business cards, bring them! He asked me why I wanted a Nexus card in sort of a skeptical way -- I explained I was going to Vancouver for job training for about two and a half months, and he ended up asking me a lot of questions about that. So he said "but why do you want a card if you're just going once" and I said I might go to Seattle a few times for weekends to visit friends, which is true, and also that I wanted to use PreCheck lines within the US. He said "but you don't fly!" so I guess they know that? I didn't want to get into the whole "I'm trans and I don't like being groped" thing so I said that I'd been driving and taking the train more because of security lines, and if I was able to get through security quicker, I would fly more (which certainly wasn't a lie, just incomplete).

Then he asked me the same questions about arrests, courts, etc. that the US agent did, but when I said I hadn't been to court, he said, "are you sure?" I said, "Well, I had to go to court a month ago to sue my landlord," and he said, "is that all?" "Well I had a few traffic tickets around 2005, but they were dismissed." "Is that all?" "Well, I also had a misdemeanor around that same time where I had to appear before the judge, but the charges got dropped." "And what was it?" "Hitting a car in a parking lot and leaving the scene. The case got dismissed." "Anything else?" "Yeah, I changed my name, so I had to go to court for that." I said that was really all and he was more or less satisfied at that point. (I don't know what he was seeing in the records.) I'm pretty sure I wasn't forgetting anything! Anyway, the lesson learned here is to say everything in response to this question. I thought at first I didn't need to mention stuff that was dismissed, but I guess it doesn't hurt to say so.

He asked me if I had a letter explaining what the purpose of my training visit was, and I said yes, but only on my laptop (I hadn't thought to print it out since the copy that got shared with me was still a draft) and I tried to pull it up on the screen, but wasn't able to because it was in Google Docs and I didn't have a wifi connection. So, another lesson learned: I should have printed out the letter. I tried to avoid giving too many details about my work visit since the administrative people at my work are still dotting the t's and crossing the i's at this point -- basically just saying that I had been informed by the legal team at work that I wasn't going to need a work visa given the length and nature of the visit -- but he did ask a fair amount of questions about it.

Then he told me that based on the interview, I was eligible, and should be receiving the card in the mail within 5-8 days. The unfortunate part, which I didn't know, is that the US DHS offices don't have the machine to scan your irises; you have to go to Canada to do that. So I'll have to make *another* trip to Vancouver (or, I guess, just do it when I get there for work) to get my irises scanned, which I need to do if I want to use the card at airports (I won't need it if I'm crossing the border overland, but I'm not sure yet if I'm going to drive or fly there for my work visit).

I was not asked whether I'd ever used recreational drugs; based on googling other people's experiences, and also on the security clearance application that I once filled out (which never got processed since I quit the job that required it), I thought that might be a question that would come up. But it didn't -- the only legal things that got asked about were DUIs, arrests, court appearances, and being refused entry to a country.

I also think it was a good decision on my part that I decided to wear my "Stop AIDS Project / Department of Homoland Security" T-shirt yesterday and not today. (I wasn't sure what to wear, but ended up going with an incompetently-ironed (by me) button-down shirt and black khakis, no tie. That seemed to be okay.)

I guess it might seem funny that I was willing to put up with all sorts of indirect privacy invasion in order to buy myself a chance of getting out of the direct privacy invasion of having a government contractor feel up my crotchal area. I feel like it makes sense, though (as a compromise in the horrible society we live in) because I'm privileged enough to have very little to hide (from an illegal-activity point of view); on the other hand, having a cis stranger discover unexpectedly that I have a transsexual body puts me at risk. It's not the same kind of risk that a woman with a transsexual body would undergo in that situation, but it's a risk nonetheless, and one that I claim agency in doing what I can to avoid.

(And also, because I haven't mentioned this: yeah, I'm going to be in Vancouver for about 10 weeks, starting this March 11! I'll be working at the Mozilla Vancouver office and learning about linkers, profiling, build systems, debuggers, and other awesome topics from the one and only Graydon.)
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
Tomorrow is Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR). I was debating whether I should write about TDOR, because erica, ascendant and Monica Maldonado have already spoken so much truth on the subject. If you haven't read what they wrote, you should go read it. I'll wait.

The only TDOR event I've attended was two years ago, at Portland State University. To the organizers' credit, Tobi Hill-Meyer was a featured speaker. But other than her speech and showing of her movie, there wasn't a whole lot in the program that was on-topic. What I remember most about the evening was the "genderqueer acrobatics" performance, featuring a number of mostly white youths in furry costumes, cavorting. It didn't seem appropriate for a memorial, any more than a dance party -- which is apparently happening tomorrow as part of more than one city's TDOR event -- is. Do white people jump for joy at the deaths of trans women of color? One might be left thinking so.

I think that part and parcel of this fundamental not getting it is the characterization of violence against trans women of color -- which makes up the overwhelming majority of reported violence against trans and gender-non-conforming people -- as "transphobic violence" or "violence against transgender people".

It's no such thing.

As people like Erica and Monica have already written about, violence against trans women of color is fundamentally violence against women -- specifically, those women who are most vulnerable due to the intersecting oppressions (such as race, poverty, and participation in sex work) they experience. Being trans makes a woman even more vulnerable to violence, because there is no place in the world where law enforcement has much, or any, motivation to investigate a violent crime against a trans woman, particularly a trans woman of color who's not wealthy. It's not that violence against trans women of color happens because of some special kind of violence that's different from run-of-the-mill violence against women because it's rooted in transphobia. It's more indirect: yes, trans women make easier targets, but to understand the real story you have to understand misogyny, racism, poverty -- in other words, the same issues that make cis women vulnerable to violence. Strangely enough, violence (to personify it) seems to be more respectful towards trans women's genders than are the trans men and cis women who often organize events like TDOR. While the latter group seems to need to construct a narrative of transphobia to explain violence against trans women -- so unable are they to see that men commit violence against trans women because they're women -- certain men show that they see trans women as women, by treating them in the same way they treat cis women: only more violent.

When trans men organizing TDOR celebrations talk about the suffering of "transgender people", when academics like Dean Spade make their entire careers off talking about the litany of ways in which "transgender people" are oppressed, they're being wildly misleading. Perhaps not intentionally, in most cases. But it still comes off as self-aggrandizing when college-educated white trans men (like myself!) talk about how they could be killed for being trans, when the worst thing they've ever experienced was someone looking at them funny in the men's room, once.

I don't mean to say that even the most privileged white trans men never face oppression for being trans. Health insurance companies are allowed to deny us needed medical care because we're trans, which affects all but the very richest of us. Many of us can't get government-issued identification that reflects our sexes correctly, which is humiliating if nothing else. I've personally known trans men who had trouble getting employment due to being perceived as trans men. I could go on, but I won't. There are issues that affect all, or almost all, trans people, regardless of their privilege along other axes. And no one should feel that those issues aren't important to work on just because someone, somewhere is suffering more.

So I am totally not opposed to someone working on health insurance discrimination in the US, for example, because that's the issue that moves them, even though having health insurance at all is a privilege many trans people lack. What's wrong, though, is erasing and distracting from the experiences of trans women facing intersecting oppressions by blurring the boundaries with the phrase "transgender people". That phrase groups together trans people who, in fact, profit from white supremacy and unequal distribution of incomes (hello, like me) with trans people who are being profited off, and implies a common set of interest where there is none. The same set of forces that means trans women of color often get the rawest deal even within a particular underclass is the set of forces that allows me to earn a very comfortable living by pressing buttons on a computer all day.

Therefore, for me -- or someone who resembles me -- to go on a stage tomorrow and talk about all the violence that "transgender people" suffer would be wrong. It would be self-aggrandizing. For me to pretend that there is something significant that makes me more similar to a trans woman of color doing sex work and living in poverty than I am to a white cis man running a well-funded Silicon Valley startup would be dishonest. And it would be hard not to see that as a cynical attempt for me to use dead women as instruments to advance a political agenda that -- because it serves the most privileged rather than the least -- isn't really about much other than a self-perpetuating machine of publicity and fundraising.

The rhetorical sleight of hand in grouping all trans people's experience together with the phrase "transgender people" is not just inaccurate and imprecise. It's actively harmful in a way that's very much like the use of "die cis scum" as a rallying cry for some white trans people. The ability to prioritize cis people's oppression of trans people as the most piercing injustice is a reflection of privilege: the privilege of being someone who expects to be in a position to dominate others, but is blocked from being in that position solely by being placed as transsexual and/or transgender. Just as seeing cis people as the only threat is a luxury for those who can rely on white trans people to have their back, garnering sympathy because one could be "killed for being trans" is a privilege reserved for those who can identify a unitary threat to their rightful place of privilege, a single reason why they can't live life at the very lowest difficulty setting.

Clearly, we white trans people (and the cis people who love us) need a common enemy to rally against. But because there's so little violence against us that could reasonably be called "transphobic" (there's a movie called "Boys Don't Cry" because it is indeed so rare for a white trans man to be attacked; if there was a movie about every trans woman of color who met a violent death, there could be an entire category for them on Netflix), it's hard for us to make our movement seem vivid enough to get people interested. Health insurance exclusion clauses, medical gatekeeping, and state bureaus of vital records that refuse to change gender markers on birth certificates are not exactly the stuff of which an attention-getting crusade for justice is made. But the answer isn't to steal stories from people whose lives have inherent value because they were, or are, who they are, as opposed to because a more socially privileged person can use them as an instrument.

What's the harm in all of this? Isn't it always good to raise awareness? But when a group like the Transgender Law Center gives an "Ambassador Award" to Chaz Bono, a man who told the New York Times that testosterone made him feel bored when women were talking, you have to wonder whether ameliorating misogyny matters to self-styled trans activists. (The same group saw it as a priority to help Bono file a legal name change, something that many trans people of more modest means do on their own, without help from a nonprofit.) I think there's a connection between how many groups that claim to be concerned with "LGBT rights", or even with "trans rights", serve mainly the most privileged, and the treatment of trans people's experience as unitary that's exemplified by TDOR and its accompanying rhetoric of "violence against transgender people". The result is a fundamental misdirection of resources. It's been pretty rigorously shown that trickle-down economics doesn't work, and I don't believe that trickle-down social justice works, either.

If it makes you feel good to watch candles being lit and listen to people who look like me mispronounce the last names of people who, well, don't, then it's possible that nothing I've just said will change that. I'm mainly writing this to sort out my thoughts. I've been wanting for a long time to do more than just write about trans activism, to get involved, but I've never been able to see a place to start that clearly does more good than harm. So maybe that's a sign that it would be more effective to work for health care and fair working conditions for everyone, cis people and trans people.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Y'alls, this is kind of big news. Photographic evidence first:

Read more... )

If you're confused, that's understandable. A long time ago, I lived in California and had a driver's license with my old name, and the sex I was coercively assigned at birth. Then I moved to Oregon, and legally changed my name to the name I use now. I got a driver's license in Oregon, which made my California driver's license invalid. Two years ago, I corrected my passport to have the correct gender marker, which I did immediately after the State Department reformed their guidelines for changing gender markers on passports. Previously, you had to submit evidence of having had surgery (the question of what kind of surgery was a bit fuzzy) in order to change your gender marker. Starting in mid-2010, all you needed was a letter from a doctor saying you were undergoing appropriate treatment for gender transition. There was no longer any requirement for surgery, hormones, or counseling.

When I moved back to California last year, I got a new driver's license. I presented my passport, myself, and my old Oregon driver's license as ID. Even though my Oregon driver's license said "F", presumably the correct gender marker on my passport -- as well as my appearance, which was close to what it is in the userpic attached to this post -- prevailed. I did say I'd had a CA driver's license before, but the DMV worker was unable to find any record of it. So, I had a CA driver's license with my correct gender on it.

California law says that to change the gender on your driver's license, you're supposed to submit a DL-329 form. I didn't want to do that, for reasons I'll get to. I figured that having been out of state would be sufficient to bootstrap a clean record instead.

And that worked, for about a year. A few months ago, I got a letter from the DMV saying that during a review of records, it had been discovered that there were two people with the same Social Security number who'd had a driver's license -- of course, those two people were my old name (listed as F) and my correct name (listed as M). In a phone call, I explained to the worker at the Records Security Division who'd written the letter that I did not intend to submit a DL-329 form, but that I would be happy to send her a copy of my legal name change decree, which I did. I also included a photocopy of my passport.

I didn't receive a response to this letter for several weeks, so I called back the person I had spoken to before. She said that I would still have to submit a DL-329 form, and that my license would be invalidated if I didn't. I asked what I was supposed to do for a driver's license if I didn't submit the form. She said they would reissue my license with an 'F' gender marker. I asked how I was expected to go to the DMV and prove I was an 'F' given that I had no current driver's license with that marker, no passport, and no other ID that has a gender marker. She said I should show my birth certificate. (Actually, for all she knew, I might already have corrected my birth certificate; I have everything I need in order to do so.) I asked when my license was going to be invalidated. She said "as soon as I send the letter saying so", but didn't say when she was going to send the letter.

Today, I got the letter shown above in the mail. Because I was able to (effectively) change my gender marker by submitting only a legal name change and copy of a corrected passport, I expect that the DMV will allow any other trans person to do the same -- otherwise, it would be unfair.

If you're familiar with the rules, you might be asking, "Tim, aren't the requirements for correcting a passport very similar to what's stated on the DL-329 form?" Yes, except for one thing: the DL-329 has separate sets of boxes for a doctor to check for "Demeanor" and "Gender identification". In both cases, the only options are "male" and "female". (There's a third set of boxes where the physician gets to choose whether your gender identification is "complete" or "transitional".) Here are some of the things that are insulting about this form:

  • The assumption that your demeanor can be different from your gender identification.
  • The assumption that your gendered "demeanor" is relevant to your ability to operate a motor vehicle safely.
  • The assumption that everyone has a demeanor that is either male or female, not both, and that everyone has a gender identification that is either male or female, or not both.
  • The assumption that a medical doctor is automatically qualified to assess whether someone's "demeanor" is male or female.
  • The assumption that a department of motor vehicles should be in the business of assessing someone's "demeanor".

I see a trans-affirming primary care doctor who would have been willing and able to fill out this form correctly for me. That's not the point. What does it mean to have a "male" or "female" demeanor? Can you define that precisely? I don't think the DMV can. If I wear barrettes in my hair, does that make my demeanor "female"? If I take them out, does that change it to "male"? (Not a hypothetical question.)

Fortunately for trans Californians, you don't have to fill out this insulting form anymore; if you're required to, contact me and we'll make sure that the department is aware that you're aware that someone else was allowed a correction without filling it out, so why shouldn't you be granted the same right?

Caveats: I am not a lawyer. If you try this and your records get irreparably screwed up, it's not my fault. It's possible that the fact that I had a gap in between the period of validity of my old 'F' license, and my new 'M' license, affected things (although I don't think that should matter). With that said, I think that those who feel they are in a position to do so should start challenging the system -- this is the crack that we can pry open to break the whole oppressive system apart.

If you know anybody at a trans rights group that deals with California, you might want to let them know about this. (I've learned from experience that these groups only seem to talk to certain kinds of people, of which I am not one.) And please redistribute this post far and wide.

On Facebook, a friend noted: "a keystone of the enforcement of administrative law is not making exceptions. you know why i love exceptions? because they let you poke holes in bad policies and insulting procedures."
tim: protest sign: "Down With This Sort of Thing" (politics)
Today I stumbled upon "Categorical Exclusions: Exploring Legal Responses to Health Care Discrimination Against Transsexuals" [PDF], a 2002 article in the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law by Kari E. Hong. In my opinion, the most interesting point Hong raises in her discussion of how American law enshrines anti-trans discrimination is about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Is being trans a disability? Arguably so, under the ADA's definition of "disability":

"(1) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities . . .; (2) a record of such impairment; or (3) being regarded as having such an impairment."

Even from the perspective of trans activists who believe the only unpleasant thing about being trans is the marginalization that we experience by cisnormative society (a perspective I don't share), being trans qualifies under clause (3): even trans people who don't believe they have a medical condition, don't believe that "gender dysphoria" or "gender identity disorder" are real things, and don't feel they require medical intervention are regarded as "impaired" by others. Under one definition, being trans means to have one's gender and/or sex not universally recognized as valid. That means that you are regarded as impaired in an area of life that most people consider essential (having a gender and sex that are concordant and unambiguous). So at least by the ADA's standards, being trans is a disability. I don't have a problem with that, since I don't feel the need to perpetuate ableism by holding myself as superior to and apart from people who have disabilities.

Since the ADA makes it illegal for health insurance companies (as well as health care providers) to discriminate on the basis of disability, you might wonder why a significant majority of group health insurance plans in the US (and every individual health insurance plan that I know of) have specific trans exclusion clauses in their policies, which exclude coverage for what is usually -- crudely and non-clinically -- referred to as "sex transformation" or "sex changes". Actually, these clauses exclude coverage for a variety of reconstructive surgeries (mostly on the genitals, chest, or face) when trans people are having them. Often, the policy covers the very same reconstructive surgery for cis people that's excluded for trans people: for example, breast reconstruction for cis women who have had mastectomies due to breast cancer is covered (this is required by federal law), while breast reconstruction for trans women is not.

So according to the ADA, isn't this blatantly illegal discrimination? Well, no, and for that, you can thank Republican senators (at the time) William Armstrong, Orrin Hatch, and Jesse Helms, all of who were involved in introducing a heinous amendment to the ADA:

At the end of the bill, add the following:

Under this act the term `disability' does not include `homosexuality,' `bisexuality,' `transvestism,' `pedophilia,' `transsexualism,' `exhibitionism,' `voyeurism,' `compulsive gambling,' `kleptomania,' or `pyromania,' `gender identity disorders,' current `psychoactive substance use disorders,' current `'psychoactive substance-induced organic mental disorders,' as defined by DSM-III-R which are not the result of medical treatment, or other sexual behavior disorders.'

If you read Hong's article, you can find some of the despicable things that Armstrong and Helms said on the Senate floor that led to the introduction of this amendment. As Hong points out, Armstrong and Helms made no attempt to hide that their antipathy for trans people, pyromaniacs, drug users, and so on had nothing to do with evidence or medical science. I can't help thinking about much more recent controversies over Republicans like Todd Akin, who also made medical claims (that cis women who experience rape can't become pregnant) that are completely contradicted by fact. It's hard not to think that there not only hasn't been progress in the past quarter-century, but that we've gone backwards. While Armstrong's and Helms' ignorant statements could maybe, maybe be excused by the lack of widespread knowledge about and experience with trans people, Akin lacked that excuse for his asinine statements about pregnancy -- not a marginal condition, but one experienced by up to half the human population.

Because nobody in the Senate really gave a shit about trans people (not that I have any reason to think that's changed), the Armstrong-Hatch amendment passed, and continues to be law today. There are other legal bases on which somebody who was denied insurance coverage just for being trans could challenge that decision, but without some significant effort to show that the Armstrong-Hatch amendment violates the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution, the ADA won't be one of them. Then again, it does violate the Equal Protection clause, so you'd think someone would get on that.

Hong's article is ten years old; since then, I've seen very little other writing that explored a potential ADA-based challenge to trans exclusion. Recently, groups like the National Center for Transgender Equality and the Transgender Law Center, as well as writers like Melissa Harris-Perry, have lauded how the Affordable Care Act (ACA) adds additional legal protections for trans people facing health care discrimination. However, I find these celebrations to be premature and totally misleading and harmful, since the ACA in no way addresses the core issue that trans people can be denied medical care that cis people get with no obstacles, simply because we belong to a socially stigmatized group. So long as social stigma affects the kind of health care I can access more than medical necessity does, I won't be celebrating.

Postscript: There's one thing I think Hong is totally off-base about: her assertion that trans kids shouldn't receive medical treatment. If her opinion were policy, at least one person I know probably wouldn't be alive today, and that would be bad, since I prefer her to be around. She seems to confuse reparative therapy for trans kids as practiced by Ken Zucker and supported by his pals entourage Ray Blanchard and J. Michael Bailey, cheerled by Anne Lawrence and Alice Domurat Dreger -- something that is absolutely harmful and unethical -- with treating trans kids by letting them be the gender they are. These two modalities are about as similar as antifreeze and ginger ale, but Hong seems to fall for the harmful misconception (allow me: cisconception?) that medical treatment for trans kids amounts to forcing gender roles on them. That couldn't be further from the truth, since denying medical treatment is an attempt to force a gender role on a trans child: the gender role the child was arbitrarily and coercively assigned at birth. When it comes to adults, though, I find Hong's arguments pretty sound (aside from some of the language -- like the self-contradictory phrase "biological gender" -- which reflects the standards of the time).
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
I'm taking time off during a workday to write this, but damn it, if I don't, I'm just going to explode here.

About midway through 2011, when it looked like there was a good chance I was staying in California for a while, I went to get a California's driver's license. I had had a CA license before, using my former legal name. This time, I checked off male as my gender, since I had my passport with me (which I'd already had corrected) and nobody was likely to question that I was male. The worker at the DMV looked up my old records when I said I'd previously had a driver's license in CA (I didn't mention that my name was different, since he didn't ask) but he didn't find anything. A week later or so I got a new CA license in the mail.

An entire year later, I got a letter in the mail from the DMV asking me to submit a DL-329 form to change my gender, with a threat that my driver's license would be invalidated three weeks from the date of the letter if I didn't do this. (They took a year to figure out they'd made a mistake, but gave me three weeks to address the issue.) I called the number on the letter, and talked to a person who works for the Records and Security Division. She explained that because there were two entries for people with the same Social Security number but different names and genders (my old name and my new name), that looked as if there were two people using the same Social Security number. To prove that these were the same person, I sent them a copy of my legal name change decree from five years ago, as well as my passport. That was about a month ago.

Since I'm buying a car, I wanted to check that my license was still valid, so I called the person I talked to before again. She said that she had received the documents, but if I didn't submit a DL-329 form, the DMV would invalidate my current license and I would have to go get a new license with an 'F' gender marker. I asked her if it was correct that she was asking me to carry a driver's license that says I'm female, and a passport that says I'm male, and she said that was correct. I asked how she expected me to prove that I should have an 'F' gender marker, since when I went to the DMV the worker would clearly see that I present as male. She said I should bring a copy of my birth certificate. I asked if it's correct that California disregards federal law by requiring people to have a different gender on their ID than the gender on their federal government ID. She said yes.

I am not up for debating why I don't want to fill in the DL-329 form and I will delete any comments that try to argue with me about this. I don't agree with the idea that either the motor vehicle registry or a doctor is more qualified to assess whether my "demeanor" is "male" or "female" than I am. I also don't know what it means to have a "male" or "female" demeanor. If I put barrettes in my hair, does that make my demeanor "female"? I don't think the DMV or anyone who was involved in making the law that underlies this form knows what it means to have a "male" or "female" demeanor, either.

Besides that, it's sex discrimination to subject trans people to a process of having their "demeanor" assessed as male or female just to be able to drive a car (and what if your demeanor is neither male nor female?), when cis people aren't required to prove what their gender is or get a doctor's signature to prove their demeanor is male or female.

So, now I have the options of either not only not driving, but not having any government ID other than my passport; or turning in my current driver's license in exchange for one with the wrong gender on it. I honestly don't understand why California feels the need to have a definition of what gender I am that's different from the federal government's definition. (Yeah, I know legal gender doesn't actually exist and is just a name to cover up a process of institutionalized bullying -- that's sort of the point.)

I don't see why I can't just keep my driver's license the way it is, especially given that having the correct gender on my license for the past year hasn't harmed anyone.

I would like suggestions, but "ask _____", where the blank is filled in with any well-known trans rights organization, is not going to cut it. Sorry. All the organizations that I know of appear to think that the current process is just fine and there's nothing wrong with making trans people, but not cis people, fill out a DL-329 form to get correct ID. If you have actual evidence that this isn't so, please share, but otherwise, yes, it has already occurred to me to talk to whatever organization you're thinking of, and no, I don't think that's going to work. Many trans people are happy with the current system of gatekeeping and don't see a reason to change that. I just don't see why anyone should have to fill out a demeaning and dehumanizing form just to be able to drive a car or, less than that, write a check or buy liquor. And as I said, I'm not up for debating this, only for receiving practical suggestions about solving the problem at hand. As such, all comments are screened.

I'm also wondering what happens if I correct my birth certificate before going to the DMV, and thus have no documentation left to show that "proves" I'm female (let's not talk about the absurdity to have to prove something that's false in order to get a driver's license). Unfortunately, Massachusetts's requirements involve proof of what they erroneously call "sex reassignment surgery", and while I happen to have that, I don't want to tacitly approve of a system that says that having surgery changes people's sex or gender, which it doesn't do. Then again, is it a lesser evil to supply proof of surgery in order to get a correct birth certificate that I can then use to buffalo California and their unarguably more objectionable rules?
tim: Mike Slackernerny thinking "Scientific progress never smelled better" (science)
It's about 7:30 PM and I have another two or three hours to go before the northbound Coast Starlight train I'm on gets to San José. I've done all of the work, and working on the other (much huger) blog post in progress that I'm working on, that I can stand for today. You know what that means, right? It's Surgery TMI O'Clock!

Like with my first surgery post, some disclaimers apply:
  1. I like to be open even about things many people consider private, and that means I'm okay with writing about intimate details about my body and my sexuality in public. I'm okay with sharing these details with anyone who might stumble upon them. But you may not be comfortable with reading about them. I'm expecting this will mainly apply to people who know me in particular contexts.

  2. Besides the sexy stuff in here, there's also stuff that's kind of gross, so if you're made easily queasy by blood 'n gore, you might not want to read it either. Seriously, if you don't like reading about pain and some of the grosser things bodies do, don't read it.

  3. Just because I'm sharing these details doesn't mean it's okay to ask any other trans person about surgery they've had, surgery you think they may have had, surgery you think they should have, anything else about surgery, or any intimate details about their bodies that you wouldn't ask someone who wasn't trans who you knew only casually. So don't do that! We're not all alike, and I am not going to be the one who gives any cis people an excuse to ask other trans people invasive questions. In fact, there are a lot of situation in which I don't want to discuss the contents of this post, even with people who I'm comfortable having read it: in the office, in church, on VTA Light Rail, and so on. So use the same judgment you'd use when bringing up any other sensitive topic.

If this post doesn't provide TMI about how I relate to my body and about what makes me tick, sexually, then I'll have left something out that I meant to put in, and you'd better nag me about it. It's up to you whether you want to read or not, and so you can decide for yourself, here's a cut tag.

Read more... )
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
A couple weeks ago, Zoe Moyer, a student at Wellesley and writer for the Wellesley news, emailed me asking my opinion about a petition to make Wellesley admissions gender-neutral. I explained that in my opinion, Wellesley is already not a single-sex institution and the question is whether to admit people who were coercively assigned male at birth, not whether to admit men (since Wellesley already admits men, provided they were coercively assigned female at birth).

The article was published last week, but unfortunately, it appears I didn't make myself very clear in my comments, as the first part of the passage where my name is mentioned is accurate about my views, but the second part isn't. I wrote the following email to Zoe:
I'm afraid that something I wrote in my email may have
been unclear, because of this quote:

'Because transgender women are also allowed to apply to Wellesley,
Chevalier said that Wellesley "need[s] to be honest…and stop referring
to [itself] as a single-sex college.'"

The quote makes it look like I believe that trans women are not women,
and that's absolutely something I do not believe. Trans women don't
make Wellesley not-a-single-sex-college; trans *men* do. The quote
would reflect what I believe if "women" was changed to "men". Would
you mind printing a correction? I would hate for anyone to come away
from the article thinking that I said something that was so erasing of
trans women's personhood.

Anyway, I just thought I would post this here in case anyone came across the article and thought that my view is that admitting trans women (which Wellesley never does in practice, except for those women who have corrected their gender documentation and can avoid disclosing their trans status, as far as I know, so that's also a bit confusing) makes Wellesley not-single-sex.

If anyone is interested, my original reply from which the quotes from me are derived:
Read more... )
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
I have an announcement to make that some people may consider TMI and which may be NSFW if text can be NS F your W. In 3 1/2 weeks, I'm having genital reconstructive surgery. I'm a person who doesn't mind sharing details about my body that many would consider rather personal. The concept of TMI has never rang very true for me (in general, I want to know everything about everybody, and it's hard to imagine being squicked by somebody else knowing something about me). However, I also believe in consent, and part of that means not foisting details about my sexuality on anybody before they have the chance to opt out. So if you are someone who plays a role in my life such that knowing very intimate details about me would make you uncomfortable -- or if you just don't care what's going on in and around my crotch -- here's your chance to opt out. Don't follow the link.
For the rest of you... )
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
I cannot tell you how many times I have been told the following: “I have no problem with you people dressing however you want, and I’ll even call you ‘she’ if that’s what you want, but if you go around hitting on guys, don’t be surprised when you get what you deserve.” The threat of violence there is implied in only the loosest sense; no rational person in the threatened group would interpret that as anything but a threat. At the very least, it is condoning it as deserved.
-- Autumn Nicole Bradley, "Larry King is why L, G, B, and T are together"
Go ahead and call it abuse. Call it assault. Call it rape. If you've done a whole lot of waffling about your experience with not-very-niceness, it probably was whatever you don't want to call it. It'll give you a sense of legitimacy when you feel hurt or angry. It'll give you, and the people you disclose to, a cue to take your experiences and their impact on your life seriously. It doesn't "cheapen" anything--do you think it's wrong to call influenza "illness" because really ill people have cancer oh my god don't cheapen the I-word like that? And it'll stop you doubting or devaluing your own emotions. If you survived something painful, you're a survivor, and it's not drama but simple fact to say "I'm a survivor."
-- The Pervocracy, "Survivor"


tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Tim Chevalier

May 2016

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